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Senate cuts colleague some slack

An amendment exempts Sen. William "Doc'' Myers from requirements doctors have to meet to renew their license.

By JO BECKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Sen. William "Doc" Myers lost his right to practice medicine in Florida more than two years ago because he let his license lapse.

This week, his colleagues in the Legislature are trying to give it back to him by doing an end run around the state Board of Medicine.

Under a provision the Senate tacked on to a major health care bill, Myers could renew his license without having to undergo medical exams and a potentially rigorous interview to determine whether his poor health would prevent him from safely treating patients.

Instead, the Hobe Sound Republican could simply reactivate his license -- and he could do so without having to meet the same renewal standards required of every other doctor in the state.

The provision relaxes the renewal requirements for "any licensee who is a member of the Legislature." Myers is the only person in the state at the moment to meet that definition.

Myers, who is wheelchair-bound and in poor health, said he hopes the provision passes so that he can go to work as a medical administrator at an HMO when term limits force him to leave his $27,000 a year Senate job later this year. He is 69.

"I know I can't go back to practicing. I can't feel anything in my fingers," said the former family practitioner, raising both hands to prove his point. "I've got all kinds of offers to do other things, but I don't know if I can do them without a medical license."

Myers said he was not on the Senate floor Tuesday at the time Sen. Pat Thomas offered his amendment and said he knew nothing about it in advance.

The provision was adopted without a recorded vote. The bill then passed the Senate 36-0, with no debate or explanation of the provision that helped Myers, a member of the Legislature since 1978.

A similar House bill does not contain the Myers provision, so it still has a few steps before it could become law. The session ends Friday.

Thomas, a Quincy Democrat who is also retiring this year, said Wednesday that he was not aiming to specifically help Myers. But he said lawmakers who miss deadlines should be given some slack.

"If I'm locked in here for 60 days," Thomas said, "let there be a little flexibility."

The bill is just the latest example of friends in the Legislature helping one another as the pressure of term limits mounts. Earlier this session, one lawmaker floated a bill to give a $125,000 a year salary to Sen. John Grant when the Tampa Republican takes a state job heading a new guardianship program. Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed Grant to the position, quashed the idea.

Ray McEachern, the president of the Tampa-based Association for Responsible Medicine, called the Myers provision "absolutely absurd."

"That's so much gall that I almost can't believe they'd do it," McEachern said. "At the very least, the Board of Medicine should be able to determine whether he's qualified."

Myers' troubles with his medical license began in February 1996. According to Department of Health records, that's when he was notified that he had failed to renew his license on time. He was sent a last warning in October 1997, according to the department.

In February 1998, Myers' license was declared null and void.

During the two years leading up to that point, Myers was struggling with diabetes, congestive heart failure and severe back and hip pain that has left him unable to walk. He sold his family practice in 1996 because of health problems.

Myers contends he never received any notification from the Department of Health. Though he had no Florida license, he said he continued to practice administrative medicine and give prescriptions to lawmakers. He learned he no longer had a license when he applied for a hospital consulting job in the spring of 1998. He subsequently hired a lawyer and is contesting the department's actions.

Under current law, Myers must apply for a medical license and meet the same standards required of any new doctor. That means taking a medical exam and going through an extensive background check.

Those with disabilities like Myers may also be required to appear before a committee that, based on medical records and an interview, determines "whether or not the person's condition would be a hindrance to their practice or compromise their ability," according to Bill Parizek, a Department of Health spokesman.

Because there is no way to limit a license to the practice of administrative medicine, that could pose a problem, Myers acknowledged. The medical exam might also be difficult, he said.

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